Turkey says it has new evidence of Gulen coup links, will discuss with U.S

FILE PHOTO: U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen at his home in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 10, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller/File Photo

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey has obtained fresh evidence linking supporters of a U.S.-based cleric to a 2016 failed military coup, Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul said, adding he would discuss the new information with his U.S. counterpart later on Friday.

Turkey’s so far fruitless two-year effort to seek cleric Fethullah Gulen’s extradition from the United States has deepened strains between the NATO allies. Washington has asked Ankara to produce more persuasive evidence against Gulen.

Gulen, who has lived in the United States since 1999, has denied involvement in the coup attempt and condemned it.

State news agency Anadolu quoted Gul as saying new evidence was found on the phone of a follower of Gulen.

“We obtained a new piece of evidence showing FETO was directly connected to the coup that night, strengthening all of the hypotheses and information that we have already given,” Anadolu reported Gul as saying.

FETO is the term the Turkish government uses to describe Gulen’s network.

Gul said he planned to discuss the new evidence in a phone call with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions later on Friday. A spokeswoman for Sessions declined to comment.

U.S.-Turkish relations took another hit this week when a Turkish court ruled to keep an American pastor in prison on terrorism charges that the United States rejects.

A U.S. official in Turkey said on Friday that cooperation between Turkish and U.S. law enforcement agencies over Gulen had improved in recent months, but Ankara needed to produce evidence of his involvement that would be persuasive enough for a U.S. court to authorize his extradition.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said U.S. Justice Department authorities were working closely with their Turkish counterparts to ensure that any extradition request Turkey submits to a U.S. court is “detailed enough to have a chance of success.”

“My colleagues at the Justice Department tell me that they have spent more time on the Gulen extradition request than on any other extradition request in their memory… thousands of hours,” the official said.

The official said that the U.S. Justice Department has been separately probing a network of American charter schools run by Gulen’s followers since long before Turkey began investigating the cleric. Gulen and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan were close allies until the two men had a public falling-out in 2013.

(Reporting by Julia Harte and Gulsen Solaker; Editing by Dominic Evans and Raissa Kasolowsky)

Turkey sentences 104 people to life in prison in post-coup case: Hurriyet

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses a news conference at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, April 18, 2018. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

ANKARA (Reuters) – A Turkish court on Monday sentenced 104 people to life in prison for involvement in a failed military coup in 2016, the Hurriyet newspaper said, in one of the heaviest penalties given since the attempt.

The court in the Aegean coastal town of Izmir handed 104 of 280 defendants “aggravated life” sentences, Hurriyet said, the harshest punishment possible under Turkish law as it raises the minimum time in jail required for parole.

Another 21 people were given 20 years in prison for insulting the president, while 31 others were sentenced to 10 years and six months for “membership of a terrorist organization”, Hurriyet said.

More than 240 people, most of them unarmed civilians, were killed on the night of July 15, 2016, when a group of rogue soldiers commandeered tanks and warplanes in an attempt to attack parliament and overthrow President Tayyip Erdogan.

The government blames the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former ally of Erdogan, for orchestrating the failed coup. Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, has denied involvement and condemned the putsch.

Since the coup attempt, authorities have detained 160,000 people and dismissed nearly the same number of civil servants as part of a sweeping crackdown, the U.N. human rights office said in March. Of that number, more than 50,000 have been formally charged and kept in jail pending trial.

The scale of the crackdown has alarmed rights groups and Turkey’s Western allies, who fear the country is sliding further into authoritarianism under Erdogan and accuse the president of using the failed putsch as a pretext to quash dissent.

The government, however, says the measures are necessary, given the extent of the security threats it faces.

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Ece Toksabay and Catherine Evans)

Turkey’s Erdogan declares early elections on June 24

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses a news conference at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, April 18, 2018. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

By Tuvan Gumrukcu and David Dolan

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday called a snap presidential and parliamentary election on June 24, more than a year earlier than planned, saying the country urgently needed to make the switch to an executive presidency.

Bringing the elections forward means that they will take place under a state of emergency that has been in place since a July 2016 attempted coup and was extended by parliament on Wednesday for another three months.

In 15 years of rule as prime minister and later president, Erdogan has transformed a poor country at the eastern edge of Europe into a major emerging market. Yet Turkey’s rapid economic growth has also come with increased authoritarianism, as Erdogan has accelerated a crackdown on dissent since the failed coup.

Erdogan and his ministers had previously dismissed the prospect of early polls. Last year he narrowly won a referendum to change the constitution and create an executive presidency, which will come into effect with the next presidential vote.

He said Turkey’s military operations in neighboring Syria “and the developments in our region of historic importance, have made it mandatory to remove the election issue from our agenda”.

In a speech broadcast live on television he said it was also “urgent to switch to the new executive system in order to take steps for our country’s future in a stronger way…We came to the agreement that we should approach this early election positively.”

He said he made the decision after speaking to the head of the nationalist MHP party, Devlet Bahceli, who a day earlier had floated the prospect of an early election. The elections had been slated for November 2019.

Bahceli’s small MHP party is expected to form an alliance with Erdogan’s AK Party in the parliamentary election.


The main opposition CHP party called for an immediate end to the emergency, which allows Erdogan and the government to bypass parliament in passing new laws and allows them to suspend rights and freedoms.

“There cannot be an election under emergency rule,” CHP spokesman Bulent Tezcan said. “The country needs to brought out of the emergency rule regime starting today.”

The United Nations last month called for an end to the emergency and accused Ankara of mass arrests, arbitrary sacking and other abuses. Some 160,000 people have been detained and a similar number of civil servants dismissed since the failed putsch, it said.

Media outlets have been shut down and scores of journalists have also been jailed.

Parliament last month passed a law revamping electoral regulations that the opposition has said could open the door to fraud and jeopardize the fairness of voting. The law grants the High Electoral Board the authority to merge electoral districts and move ballot boxes to other districts.


Turkey’s lira firmed against the dollar on Wednesday and was at 4.0189 at 1500 GMT. The yield on Turkey’s benchmark bond fell some 10 basis points and the main stock index jumped more than 2 percent.

Some investors had already been factoring in the prospect of early elections, citing the difficulty of the government keeping the economy going at its current breakneck pace – it expanded at 7.3 percent in the fourth quarter – until late next year.

The economy is likely to expand 4.1 percent this year, well short of the government’s target of 5.5 percent, a Reuters poll showed. Such a slowdown could hurt Erdogan, who has built much of his reputation on his stewardship of the economy, above all his record of delivering roads, hospitals and public services to millions of pious poor and middle-class people.

Investor concerns about double-digit inflation and Erdogan’s pressure on the central bank to keep rates down have sent the lira to a series of record lows. The currency’s sell-off may have figured in the call for early elections, some investors said.

“A continued depreciation of the currency would likely negatively impact voter behavior and may jeopardize Erdogan’s plans for victory,” said Paul Greer, a portfolio manager at Fidelity International in London.

“We read the early election announcement as a recognition from the government of a need for a tighter monetary and fiscal adjustment sooner rather than later.”

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu, with additional reporting by Sujata Rao and Karin Strohecker in London; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Dominic Evans and Mark Heinrich)

U.S. pastor denies allegations of coup links as Turkey trial begins

FILE PHOTO: Andrew Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina, U.S. who has been in jail in Turkey since December 2016, is seen in this undated picture taken in Izmir, Turkey. Depo Photos via REUTERS

By Ezgi Erkoyun

ALIAGA, Turkey (Reuters) – A U.S. pastor denied allegations of links to a group accused of orchestrating a failed military coup in Turkey as he went on trial on Monday in a case that has compounded strains in U.S.-Turkish relations.

Andrew Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey for more than two decades, was indicted on charges of helping the group that Ankara holds responsible for the failed 2016 coup against President Tayyip Erdogan. He faces up to 35 years in prison.

“I’ve never done something against Turkey. I love Turkey. I’ve been praying for Turkey for 25 years. I want truth to come out,” Brunson told the court in the western Turkish town of Aliaga, north of the Aegean city of Izmir.

Brunson has been the pastor of Izmir Resurrection Church, serving a small Protestant congregation in Turkey’s third largest city.

Turkish gendarmes patrol outside of Aliaga Prison and Courthouse complex in Izmir, Turkey April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Sadi Osman Temizel

Turkish gendarmes patrol outside of Aliaga Prison and Courthouse complex in Izmir, Turkey April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Sadi Osman Temizel

“I do not accept the charges mentioned in the indictment. I was never involved in any illegal activities,” said Brunson, wearing a white shirt and black suit and making his defence in Turkish. His wife was in the courtroom, as were North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis and the U.S. envoy for religious freedom, Sam Brownback.

Brunson’s trial is one of several legal cases roiling U.S.-Turkish relations. The two countries are also at odds over U.S. support for a Kurdish militia in northern Syria that Turkey considers a terrorist organisation.

Washington has called for Brunson’s release while Erdogan suggested last year his fate could be linked to that of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose extradition Ankara has repeatedly sought to face charges over the coup attempt.

Gulen denies any association with the coup bid. Tens of thousands of Turks have been arrested or lost their jobs over alleged connections with the coup bid.

“The United States cares deeply about our relationship with Turkey,” Brownback told reporters during a recess at the trial “That relationship is going to have difficulty moving forward as long as Andrew Brunson is incarcerated.”


Brunson’s lawyer said the pastor, detained 18 months ago, was in custody because of his religious beliefs. Turkey is a majority Muslim country though constitutionally secular.

“There is evidence that shows Brunson was arrested due to his faith,” Ismail Cem Halavurt told Reuters on the eve of the trial, saying Brunson’s religious role had been “classified as aiding terror organisations”.

The Izmir prosecutor’s office said that sufficient evidence had been obtained to charge Brunson with aiding armed terrorist organisations and obtaining confidential government information for political and military espionage.

A copy of Brunson’s indictment seen by Reuters accuses him of working both with Gulen’s network and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group which has waged an insurgency in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey and is designated a terrorist group by the United States and European Union.

Halavurt said on Sunday he believed Brunson would ultimately be acquitted and there was no reason for his continued detention during trial. “Our prior expectation from the hearing is ending the arrest,” he said. “We want Brunson to be freed immediately.”

(Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay in Ankara; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by David Dolan/Mark Heinrich)

Turkey takes control of nearly 1,000 companies since failed coup: deputy PM

Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan wave national flags during a trial of soldiers accused of attempting to assassinate Erdogan on the night of the failed July 15 coup, in Mugla, Turkey, March 8, 2017. REUTERS/Kenan Gurbuz

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish authorities have seized or appointed an administrator to 965 companies with total annual sales of some 21.9 billion lira ($6 billion) in the year since an attempted coup in July 2016, Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli said on Friday.

Under the emergency rule imposed after the coup, Turkish authorities took control of companies suspected of having links to followers of Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based Muslim cleric blamed by Ankara for the failed military takeover.

The 965 companies under state management control, based in 43 provinces across Turkey, have assets totaling some 41 billion lira ($11.3 billion) and employ 46,357 people, Canikli said in a written statement.

Turkey took control of a bank, industrial companies and media firms as part of the crackdown on companies accused of links to Gulen. He has denied involvement in the putsch.

Apart from the business crackdown, Turkey has jailed more than 50,000 people pending trial and suspended or dismissed some 150,000, including soldiers, police officers, teachers and civil servants, over alleged links with terrorist groups.

The purge has alarmed Turkey’s Western allies and human rights groups, who say President Tayyip Eroding is using the coup as a pretext to muzzle dissent, a charge he denies.

Ten people including Amnesty International’s Turkey director and other rights activists were detained this week on suspicion of membership of a terrorist organization, Amnesty said on Thursday, in what it called a “grotesque abuse of power”.

The government has said the security measures are necessary because of the gravity of the threats facing Turkey, which is also battling Kurdish and Islamist militants. More than 240 people were killed in last year’s coup attempt.

(Reporting by Ebru Tuncay; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Opponents seek to annul Turkish vote as Erdogan’s new powers become reality

Anti-government demonstrators light flares during a protest in the Kadikoy district of Istanbul, Turkey, April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Kemal Aslan

By Gulsen Solaker and Tuvan Gumrukcu

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s main opposition began a battle on Tuesday to annul a referendum handing President Tayyip Erdogan sweeping new powers, while the bar association and an international monitor said an illegal move by electoral authorities may have swung the vote.

A defiant Erdogan, whose narrow victory exposed the nation’s deep divisions, has said Sunday’s vote ended all debate on the more powerful presidency he has long sought, and told European observers who criticized it: “talk to the hand”.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, whose job will cease to exist once the constitutional changes take full effect, said Erdogan would be invited to rejoin the ruling AK Party as soon as official results are announced, a sign the government has no intention of waiting to see the outcome of opposition appeals.

Under the outgoing constitution, the president had been required to remain impartial and renounce party political ties.

Few in Turkey expect legal challenges to the referendum to lead to a recount, let alone a re-run. But if unresolved, they will leave deep questions over the legitimacy of a vote which split the electorate down the middle, and whose polarising campaign drew criticism and concern from European allies.

Turkey’s bar association said a last-minute decision by the YSK electoral board to allow unstamped ballots in the referendum was clearly against the law, prevented proper records being kept, and may have impacted the results.

“With this illegal decision, ballot box councils (officials at polling stations) were misled into believing that the use of unstamped ballots was appropriate,” the Union of Turkish Bar Associations (TBB) said in a statement.

“Our regret is not over the outcome of the referendum, but because of the desire to overlook clear and harsh violations of the law that have the potential to impact the results,” it said.

The main opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP), which has said it will take its challenge to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary, said it would present a formal appeal to annul the vote to the YSK later on Tuesday.

CHP deputy chairman Bulent Tezcan said the number of missing votes was “unprecedented”, although the exact number of unstamped ballots was unknown.

YSK Chairman Sadi Guven said on Monday the last-minute decision to allow unstamped ballots was not unprecedented as the government had previously permitted such a move.

The head of the electoral board said it had received many complaints that polling stations didn’t have stamps and made the decision to accept the ballots after an appeal from a ruling AK Party official.

An Austrian member of the Council of Europe observer mission said up to 2.5 million votes could have been manipulated, almost double the margin of Erdogan’s victory, and that the YSK decision on unstamped ballots appeared illegal.

“These complaints are to be taken very seriously and they are, in any case, of such an extent that they would turn around the outcome of the vote,” Alev Korun told ORF radio.

The European Commission, which unlike U.S. President Donald Trump has declined to congratulate Erdogan on Sunday’s vote, called on Turkey to launch a transparent investigation into the alleged irregularities.

“There will be no call to Erdogan from the Commission, certainly not a congratulatory call,” a Western official with knowledge of EU policy told Reuters. “Turkey is sliding towards a semi-authoritarian system under one-man rule”.


Election authorities have said preliminary results showed 51.4 percent of voters had backed the biggest overhaul of Turkish politics since the founding of the modern republic, a far narrower margin than Erdogan had been seeking.

Erdogan argues that concentration of power in the presidency is needed to prevent instability. Opponents accuse him of leading a drive toward one-man rule in Turkey, a NATO member that borders Iran, Iraq and Syria and whose stability is of vital importance to the United States and the European Union.

Speaking in parliament on Tuesday, Yildirim said “rumors” of irregularities were a vain effort to cast doubt on the result.

“The people’s will has been reflected at the ballot box, and the debate is over,” he said. “Everyone should respect the outcome, especially the main opposition”.

The YSK said on its website on Sunday, as votes were still being cast, that it had received “considerable complaints” that voters had been given slips and envelopes without official stamps and that it would accept unstamped documents as long as they were not proven to be fraudulent.

The bar association, whose head Metin Feyzioglu is seen as a potential future leader of the opposition CHP, said it had also received phone calls from many provinces about unstamped ballots on Sunday and that its lawyers had advised that records of this should be closely kept once ballot boxes were opened.

But it said that had failed to happen, and that evidence of irregularities had therefore not been properly archived.

On its website, the YSK gave four examples of cases in previous decades where unstamped ballots had been accepted at individual ballot boxes. But those cases only affected several hundred votes and the decision was taken days after the vote and only once the possibility of fraud had been ruled out.

The YSK has also decided to annul elections in the past because of unstamped ballots. It canceled the results of local elections in two districts in southeastern Turkey in April 2014 and re-held them two months later.

And in Sunday’s referendum, the YSK’s overseas election branch had already rejected an appeal by a ruling AK Party official to have unstamped envelopes counted as valid.

YSK officials could not be reached for comment.

(Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay in Ankara, Daren Butler in Istanbul, Shadia Nasralla in Vienna, Robine Emmott and Francesco Guarascio in Brussels; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Anna Willard)

Executives from top Turkish conglomerate held in post-coup probe

Dogan Holding logo

By Ceyda Caglayan

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Police detained the top legal advisor and a former chief executive of Dogan Holding, one of Turkey’s biggest conglomerates, on Thursday in an investigation into the network of the U.S.-based cleric blamed for a failed coup.

Authorities have detained, dismissed or suspended some 120,000 people including soldiers, police officers, teachers, judges and journalists since the July coup attempt, although thousands have since been restored to their posts.

Companies with ties to the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom President Tayyip Erdogan and the government accuse of orchestrating the coup attempt, have also been targeted in the crackdown. Hundreds of companies, for the most part smaller provincial firms, have been seized.

Dogan – which has interests in media, finance, energy and tourism and owns newspaper Hurriyet and broadcaster CNN Turk – said the raids were on the personal offices and homes of the two individuals and that its operations were unaffected.

Last month, another Dogan Holding executive, Barbaros Muratoglu, was remanded in custody on an accusation of “aiding a terror group” as part of an investigation into Gulen. Ankara refers to the cleric’s network of followers as the “Gulenist Terror Organisation”.

In its statement to the Istanbul stock exchange, Dogan said Thursday’s detentions were part of the same investigation.

“The search has been carried out solely in the personal offices of the mentioned executives and there is no situation that has an impact on the operations of our company or its subsidiaries,” the statement said.


Dogan’s founder, Aydin Dogan, developed a glass commercial and residential complex called Trump Towers Istanbul which soars over a commercial district in the city. Dogan pays U.S. President-elect Donald Trump for the brand name.

Turkey wants Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1999, extradited and has been infuriated by what it sees as Washington’s reluctance to hand him over.

It is hoping that a Trump administration will be more willing to do so. U.S. officials have said the issue is a judicial matter, not a political one.

Dogan shares initially fell as much as 9.9 percent after the market opened, and were down almost 5 percent by 1145 GMT in high-volume trading. Hurriyet shares fell as much as 7.6 percent.

Aydin Dogan is a prominent figure in Turkey’s secular establishment and has had strained ties with Erdogan and the ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party in the past. His group has faced multibillion-dollar tax fines.

More than 240 people were killed in the failed coup in July and the government says the extent of the subsequent crackdown, including on business suspected of links to Gulen, is justified by the gravity of the threat to the state.

More than 41,000 people have been jailed pending trial.

Dogan Holding itself has not been formally accused of any wrongdoing and has disavowed links to Gulen.

(Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Writing by Nick Tattersall; editing by Ralph Boulton)